The most recent national labour market dataset for Trinidad & Tobago indicates the extremely surprising fact that energy sector employment increased by a staggering twenty-two percent from the previous quarter, with 4,000 additional people being recorded as employed in the petroleum sector.  The first thing that needs to be noted about these very surprising numbers is that the “most recent” data is now almost six months out of date and refers to the situation in the third quarter of 2015.  With numerous news reports about layoffs over the past few months, the situation may well have significantly changed since them.  But the absence of data makes it difficult to draw any strong conclusions.

This very surprising and out of date data point on energy sector employment puts the weaknesses of the current statistical information system in Trinidad & Tobago into stark relief.  The current government and in the particular the Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, have often spoken about the need to make policy decisions based on data but the reality is that the available data is often out of date and there are serious question marks about its accuracy or relevance.  Speaking at the inauguration of the National Tripartite Advisory Council on 15th March, Dr Rowley again made the call for decision-making based on data and restated his strong commitment to the establishment of a new National Statistical Institute to replace the very challenged Central Statistical Office.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF), who have repeatedly commented on the weakness of Trinidad & Tobago’s statistics over recent years, praised the government for its strong start in the establishment of this National Statistical Institute in the end of mission press release after their March 2016 article IV consultations.

On the energy sector employment data reported in the 3rd quarter 2015 Labour Market Bulletin, Energy Chamber CEO, Dr Thackwray “Dax” Driver urges that the data be treated with significant caution. Driver explains that “a couple of months ago one of the major daily papers carried a front page story in their business edition stating that there was a massive fall in energy sector employment in the first half of 2015.  I pointed out to the journalist that they needed to be careful about how they reported that information, because there are always big swings in the reported energy sector employment figures between quarters.  This is because many of the jobs in the sector are temporary and there may be big swings in the reports of the number of people employed if the data collection period happens to coincide with a major plant turnaround or not. I pointed out, at the time, that the danger with the way that the data was being presented was that there may be a quarter at some future point when there was a big increase in the employment numbers and people may erroneously conclude that the crisis in the sector was over.  I must say that I did not expect that the happen in the very next quarter, but this just reiterates the need to treat the available data with significant caution and use some common sense in conducting any analysis.”

 

(Source: Labour Market Bulletins)